Inspired by this question: What makes education in Finland so good?

Finland has marketed itself as a top country in education. Indeed, at some time, the Pisa results in Finland were quite good. However, the Pisa results started going down when a significant number of immigrants arrived (this is based on recollection from studying to become a teacher in Finland; might be wrong, and please correct if it is), and the gap between their results and the results of the native population used to be big. This suggests that the high Pisa results might have been due to a homogenous population of native Finnish speakers, as much as due to a successful curriculum. But maybe not, and maybe Finland has a very good school system.

Is there a research-based reason to believe that the educational system in Finland is particularly excellent, or just average, or worse than average? Is there a consensus among researchers about this?

  • $\begingroup$ I'd say that the sheer absence of pressure of high stakes tests makes learning much more relaxed and not driven by the goal to ace the test. It also seems to me that there are fewer charlatans peddling their latest and greatest techniques (usually trite or downright idiotic) in Finnish education than in American. $\endgroup$ – Rusty Core Apr 10 '19 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ @RustyCore Got research to back it up? There was certainly plenty of education on problem-based and other such methods doing my teacher studies, for example, and there is a country-wide high stakes test at the end of gymnasium ("matriculation examination"). $\endgroup$ – Tommi Apr 10 '19 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for asking this question. Just like the teachers in Finland, I am thinking in a cooperative way rather than a competitive way. I wrote the question you linked but didn't have the knowledge from which I could figure out how to write it in a well organized way so I'm glad you wrote a question based on it that's more well organized. Although that didn't happen in this case which is good, if your question had made me discover something about how I could have written it that I felt like I could have easily figured out before I wrote the question, maybe I would have instead gotten a bad $\endgroup$ – Timothy Apr 11 '19 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ feeling. I don't want to think that way because it's not good for me but I can't help it and wish I could train myself to be like the students in Finland who learn to love mistakes. It may be come from being raised in an environment where they feel like their past mistakes are forgiven and let be in the past and not feeling like they were stupid before they learned why what they were thinking before was totally wrong. Maybe I have some hope in changing the way I think to the nicer way of thinking. When I discovered on my own the unprovability of the axiom of choice when I was 21, I loved it $\endgroup$ – Timothy Apr 11 '19 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ because I liked breaking my habits and starting to think in a new way and discovering more based on my new way of thinking, and I didn't feel like I was stupid earlier for finding the axiom of choice so intuitive. Maybe I can some day change my way of thinking to being like "I know I will eventually become really smart and am not in a hurry to do so". After that, my brain might get trained to adopt the creative thinking approach rather than the fear approach to eventually achieve that goal. $\endgroup$ – Timothy Apr 11 '19 at 19:32

The following research paper, by a Finnish researcher, is expressing more concern than enthusiasm about the effectiveness of the "Finnish way" to education:


The 2015PISA performance again does not necessarily backup a stunning success of Finnish educational system


what data are registering is that Finland is registering a significant difference (in positive) for the performance of female students both in scientific literacy and in math, and that the overall good result is strongly dependent on this.

Let me add that when you look a bit closer into data you have that in many european countries there are subregions where scores are significantly above average. So, for example, Italy NorthEast area scores in math better than Finland (with 3-4 times the number of people living in an area that comprises both urban and rural areas). Finland's results are on the contrary much more uniform (you have to rely on my words for this: I read a research report in Italian where data are just scattered through and not readable easily). This of course question much what PISA is really measuring: efficiency of the educational system or context-dependent hidden variables (like those depending on economic welfare).


A few quotes from this 2016 article:

Krzywacki, Heidi, Leila Pehkonen, and Anu Laine. "Promoting mathematical thinking in Finnish mathematics education." In Miracle of Education, pp. 109-123. SensePublishers, Rotterdam, 2016. PDF download.

"The outcomes of Finnish mathematics education have proved to be excellent according to PISA testing."

"We elaborate on Finnish mathematics education especially from the perspective of the teachers, who can be seen as autonomous professionals, meaning that they are responsible for the planning, implementation, and assessment of teaching and learning mathematics. As a result of the autonomous role of the teachers, the nature of teaching mathematics in Finnish classrooms is highly dependent on individual teachers."

"Finnish pupils seem to like mathematics especially at the primary school level based on studies that have found pupils’ attitudes towards mathematics to be quite positive."

"Using teacher-conducted assessments instead of national tests and examinations especially gives teachers enough scope to independently plan and teach mathematics."

Another paper (which I have not yet read), but now a decade old:

Kupari, Pekka. "Mathematics education in Finnish comprehensive school: Characteristics contributing to student success." In Proceedings of the XI International Congress in Mathematics Education. 2008. PDF download.


REMO MOREIRA BRITO BASTOS Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, Fortaleza, CE, Brazil "The surprising success of the Finnish educational system in a global scenario of commodified education" in Revista Brasileira de Educação v. 22 n. 70 jul.-set.2017 PDF Download

“This paper, supported by bibliographic qualitative research, makes use of state of the art sources in studies of the educational system of Finland, as well as official government and multilateral institutions’ documents that investigate and seek to influence national decisions in the area of education. Additionally, it discusses the emergence, in 2001, of the international recognition of the the success of the country’s educational model. In view of the astonishing results obtained by students in the first Programme for International Student Assessment, which was conducted in 2000, we address the factors that contribute to the consistency and the success of Finland’s educational paradigm. Among the achieved results, emerges the conclusive understanding that there are successful alternative educational systems that are deeply opposed to the global corporate standard of education, and which can serve as educational models for other nations.”


I suspect the pre-immigration differences were more based on

  1. Better pupils (smarter kids).

  2. Good, controlled culture. (Low crime, good behavior, etc.)

People routinely want to blame/praise educational methods when the differences are more fundamental. For example for factor (1), are the teachers really better at Harvard in teaching entry level calculus or are the students just smarter than at some junior college? I would argue often the instruction is superior at the lower ranked school since they have more of a teaching versus research mission. [In any case, even if I'm wrong or haven't Euclidean proved my point, ignoring this factor is a logical mistake...like taking a function of x and y into z and assuming you can tell exactly how x affects z, ignoring changes in y that also affected the z.]

Two is less of a factor than one, but I suspect it matters, especially with very at risk urban schools in the US. You can look at commercial businesses and see how the cost of security in "war zone" (literal or figurative) increases the cost of groceries. It's not that people don't know how to run a supermarket. But I don't think the issue is substantial at the majority of US schools (even the poorer ones), just at very high risk urban settings. [Have read some articles to this effect, but not finding one immediately.]

P.s. "Is there a research-based reason..." from your question would be improved if you showed the results of your own initial Google Scholar search. "My question is X. I did a quick search and found 1, 2, 3, etc. A few of them gave insights blablabla, but I was unable to find key issue umptifratz." Otherwise, you're asking that ONLY answers reflecting a deep scholarly examination be allowed and have done nothing yourself. And you are a bright guy, capable of starting the discussion off with a little more.

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    $\begingroup$ "I would argue often the instruction is superior at the lower ranked school since they have more of a teaching versus research mission." My personal experience suggests that active researchers generally are the best teachers (this is a statistical claim; individual countrexamples abound). As a student and a teacher, my experience has been that the teaching is better at more research oriented institutions. $\endgroup$ – Dan Fox Apr 15 '19 at 10:48

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